The “Good Samaritan,” featured in today’s Gospel
reading, is one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. Biblical
scholars can most likely point out the meanings associated with
the priest, Levite, and Samaritan characters in the parable. Other
than a sneaking suspicion that a Samaritan did not have a good reputation
among Jesus’ followers, I’m afraid that the allegorical
effect is totally lost upon me. But the Good News is that we don’t
have to know a Levite or a Samaritan personally to experience what
Jesus is saying to us today.
As a young man in the early nineteen eighties, I decided to walk
about the United States a bit before I settled down into the daily
grind of employment. I thought I would hitchhike part of the way,
so that I would get to see some of the great prairie, and meet some
interesting people. I bought a bus pass to get me a bit further
west from my native Ohio and got off the bus in Watertown, South
Dakota. I walked into a little main street grocery store and bought
two bottles of pop and enough cheese and meat to make a sandwich
or two, and started walking north. Destination: Fargo, North Dakota.
Thumbing all the way. Should be there by dinnertime, right?
Boy was I stupid.
I got one ride from a farmer in a pickup truck that was only going
as far as the next turn. After that, nothing. I walked a long way
– I’m not sure how far – but the next town was
twenty miles away. It was mid-summer, and it was hot. My skin burned.
My one remaining bottle of pop was not enough hydration for an hour,
not to mention an entire day of walking.
Every time a car came by in my direction (which only happened maybe
two or three times each hour, even on that state highway), I turned
and stuck out my thumb and tried to appear as upbeat and “pickupable”
as possible. Every time, the car whooshed by without stopping.
The sun was sinking towards the horizon, and I was beginning to
get worried. In addition to the dehydration, the sunburn, and the
abject fatigue, I knew that I would soon have to pitch my tent in
the ditch and spend the night. What danger might lurk along this
lonely road at night? I knew that South Dakota had a great number
of “Indians” (as everyone called Native Americans in
those days). Visions of black and white TV Westerns filled my mind
– complete with raids and – yes – scalping. I
knew we were no longer living in the cowboy era, and figured (hoped)
that things had probably changed, but being naïve and uneducated
in these matters, I didn’t know that for sure.
Depressed and stumbling, I finally gave up and just walked. Even
though a few cars passed me by, I no longer bothered to turn around
and point my thumb. “What’s the use?” I thought.
Then it happened. With no prompting from me at all, a car slowed
down to a stop just a few yards in front of me. I hurried to it.
The front door opened and a Native American woman called out “If
we give you a ride, you won’t hurt us, will you?”
I just about cried.
It turned out that the lady and her son had attended a bowling tournament
in Las Vegas. They were heading back to their reservation somewhere
beyond Fargo, and welcomed me to ride all the way there.
They gave me water. They gave me a ride. They treated me with mercy.
Jesus could not have chosen a better parable to unfold before me
Or before us today.